Glossary of Legal Terms

Personal Injury

Accident – the event giving rise to a personal injury claim, involving a wrongdoer and an injured party.

Insurance Policy – a contract between an insurer and a policyholder, which decides which claims the insurer is obligated to pay and the conditions that the policyholder must meet in order to receive the payment.

Police Report – the document prepared by law enforcement authorities following an accident investigation; it is important evidence in a personal injury case.

Respondeat Superior – a legal theory holding the employer responsible for an employee’s actions performed in the course of employment; an example where this doctrine may apply is a truck driver who causes a collision and injures someone while making a delivery.

Settlement – a final agreement that ends the case; the injured party agrees not to pursue his or her claim for damages any further in exchange for compensation for the injuries suffered.

Settlement Demand – a formal attempt to resolve a personal injury case by agreement; the document where the injured person presents a damages claim to the accountable insurance company in hope of receiving compensation for his or her injuries without litigation.

Tortfeasor – the person or entity at fault in a civil case, such as personal injury litigation.

UIM Coverage – underinsured/uninsured motorist insurance policy, which allows the injured person to bring a damages claim against his or her own insurance company.

Family Law

Child Support – a periodic payment intended to maintain the standard of living that the children enjoyed during marriage; the payment is determined pursuant to the guidelines established by the Colorado legislature and codified in C.R.S § 14-10-115.

Decree of Dissolution – the court document that finalizes a divorce by officially changing the legal status of the parties.

Final Orders – the provisions set down by the court when the Decree of Dissolution is entered and the divorce becomes final; these provisions govern the former spouses’ rights and obligations following the divorce.

Initial Status Conference – a required hearing where the court establishes the roadmap for the rest of the case by setting the deadlines and procedural rules that the parties have to follow; it is the parties’ first appearance before the judge in a domestic case.

Jurisdiction – the court’s authority to make rulings in a particular case; lack of jurisdiction prevents the court from proceeding with a case.

Legal Separation/Decree of Legal Separation – an alternative to a divorce; the spouses retain a legal status that allows for continued health insurance coverage or the continued accrual of a military retirement benefit.

Maintenance/Alimony – a periodic payment intended to compensate for a spouse’s inability to provide for his or her financial needs following divorce; maintenance is awarded in recognition that the spouses’ financial resources during marriage are intertwined; the initial maintenance amount is governed by C.R.S. § 14-10-114 and its post-decree modification is governed by C.R.S. § 14-10-122.

Mediation – an alternative to litigation less formal than a court hearing; it provides a structured setting intended to facilitate reaching an agreement; mediation is required in domestic cases in order to leave only the most contentious issues for the court to decide.

Parental Responsibilities – a joint concept that includes decision-making authority and parenting time.

Parenting Plan – a document setting out the parenting time schedule agreed-upon by the parties or established by the court; it frequently includes provisions regarding holidays, important events, and parenting time exchanges; the plan can be temporary or permanent and often becomes a part of the separation agreement.

Parenting Time – formerly known as custody or visitation; it is the time that each parent spends with the child(ren), which is determined in accordance with the best interests of the child(ren).

Petition for Dissolution – the court document that begins a divorce action; in order to file for divorce in Colorado, a spouse has to claim the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage and show the court’s jurisdiction to grant the divorce.

Separation Agreement – a formal document setting out the spouses’ rights and obligations after divorce; a separation agreement is often adopted by the Court as final orders.

Service – the formal delivery of legal documents to a person; personal service requires a confirmation/proof of a successful delivery and can be accomplished by the local Sheriff’s Department or a private process server.

Status Conference – an informal hearing to provide the court with a case update or inform the court of a development in the case that requires the court’s action; either the parties or the court may request this type of hearing, and parties generally do not have to attend if represented by attorneys.

Temporary Orders – the court’s decrees that establish the spouses’ rights and obligations until the final divorce decree is entered.

Wage Assignment/Garnishment – a mechanism to help ensure compliance with a child support or maintenance obligation or the payment of a judgment by automatically deducting the required amount directly from a person’s salary.

Criminal Law

Alcohol Evaluation – a tool to determine whether a person needs substance abuse counseling after a DUI or DWAI arrest; mandatory for every person charged with a drunk-driving offense.

Deferred Sentence – a sentence whose imposition is delayed and conditioned on the defendant’s compliance with court-ordered terms; the defendant enters a guilty plea and waives his or her right to trial; however, if the defendant complies with the imposed conditions for the prescribed time, the guilty plea is withdrawn and the corresponding charges dismissed; otherwise, the sentence is imposed.

Discovery – the process of exchanging information in the course of case investigation; both sides are required to disclose to each other documents and exhibits for use at trial, and prosecution has the additional duty to disclose all possible exculpatory evidence.

Plea Agreement – an agreement whereby the defendant pleads guilty to an offense and gives up the right to trial in exchange for a more lenient sentence and/or other concessions.

Pre-Trial Conference – a hearing to inform the court of the status of the case, especially as pertains to any plea agreements.

Preliminary Hearing – a court date to determine whether probable cause exists to believe that the defendant committed the charged offense(s); a preliminary hearing is optional—it is held only if either the defendant or the prosecutor requests it.

Probation – a sentencing alternative to incarceration, which may reduce or completely substitute for a jail sentence; probation is supervised by a probation officer who tracks the convicted person’s compliance with all of the conditions established by the court; the Probation Department often oversees compliance with deferred sentence terms.

Sentencing – the stage in a criminal case where the court, following the determination of guilt, determines and imposes the appropriate penalty.